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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Observations of Africa, some funny, some not

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Smoke from burning garbage hangs over a city market
 So for those who have never been to Africa before, some of these may be interesting to you.
  • Before my first trip to Africa, a colleague told me, "It smells like B.O., burning garbage, and shit." Well, that's often (mostly) true. People don't bathe nearly as often as we do (especially the men), and they don't use deodorant. Get in a larger group of people, and it definitely has a distinct aroma. Cities and villages also do smell like burning garbage, as there's not much in the way of garbage pickup. As for the last one, only in the villages where toilets only consist of outhouses.
  • I had the pleasure of hearing the Ethiopian Airways safety announcement video four times in the space of 13 hours, and three times in the space of four hours. And because they said everything twice, once in Ethiopian (Amharic, I think) and once in English, it was twice as long as normal.
  • Although there are a lot of cars on the roads, there are a lot more bicycles and pedestrians. And while we give pedestrians right of way (by law) here in the U.S., it's not really that way in Africa.
  • There are typically two kinds of taxis (other than at the airports). Short distance taxis are bicycles where the person riding it takes a passenger on the back. Longer distance taxis are either a version of a minivan PACKED with people, or pickup trucks with passengers crammed in the back.
  • I'm not sure what the cultural driver for this is, exactly, but I was never allowed to carry my own bags. Not even my laptop bag. No matter where I went, someone insisted on carrying all my stuff for me. I'm not typically prone to 'white guilt', but having Africans carrying all my stuff for me all the time was really uncomfortable.
  • Malawi is one of a number of countries where they drive on the left side of the road instead of the right. Which nearly contributed to me getting run over because I wasn't aware enough of traffic on my side (was looking the wrong way).
  • I saw hundreds of people in the hospital in Blantyre. But I only saw two other white people, and they were both doctors. That meant I got a lot of stares from the people in the hospital, since I clearly wasn't a doctor.
  • Society as a whole is more formal there than here. People typically dress more formally and speak more formally.
  • Street vendors probably learn one English phrase before any other: "I give you good price." Every single person selling something on the street said this to me while gesturing towards their wares as I passed.
I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting, but I thought I'd share a few of these observations with you.

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